Roll back fare increases
-- Nadir appeals to minibus operators
By Mark Ramotar
Guyana Chronicle
January 15, 2003

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MINISTER of Tourism, Industry and Commerce, Mr. Manzoor Nadir, has again called on those operating public transport, particularly minibus operators, not to increase their fares.

He yesterday noted that the current increase in fuel prices was temporary and does not justify an increase in transportation fares.

At a news conference in his office, he said the Government has dropped the consumption taxes on fuel and he advised commuters that the fares ought to be the same and no increase was justified.

He urged passengers to be vigilant and to enquire about the fares charged by the public transport operators.

Last Wednesday morning, hundreds of commuters were left stranded after a number of minibus operators on 'Route 41' (South Georgetown) halted activities to press demands for fare increases.

This demand was prompted by a hike in fuel cost, which has sent up operating costs, drivers said.

Minibus operators on some other routes have also temporarily halted their operations as they too press demands for fare increases.

The Guyana Public Transportation Association (GPTA) had indicated that the recent increase in fuel price has begun to affect the income of minibus operators.

Nadir, however, indicated yesterday that if the situations becomes more "chaotic", his ministry would have to move to some form of regulation which "would not only be the regulation of fares but the entire operations of the public transport system".

"I am again appealing again to the operators to roll back the fare increases," Nadir stressed.

Asked to comment on the possibility of the minibus operators staging a widespread strike, he such a withdrawal of service will certainly prompt further action in the area of speeding up some form of regulation.

According to the minister, public transport operators have a monopoly as a service since they have a captive market.

But he said there is a strong call by many consumer organisations that the time is now right for public transport fares -- minibuses or taxis -- to come under some regulatory agency/body.

"I am again appealing to operators of public transport, buses in particular, to revert back to the old fares (and) I am asking consumers to be vigilant and to enquire of the fares (charged)," Nadir said.

He, however, noted that there are several operators abiding by the suggestions of the Government to continue with the old fare structure and he said consumers certainly can, by their numbers, have some amount of power and they can refuse to travel with those who want to charge high and unreasonable fares.

The minister said, too, that he has given a commitment to meet some public transport operators at the end of this month to look at the cost of operating public transport services, minibuses in particular.

That meeting, he said, would most likely become "the precursor to a more formal engagement if this chaotic situation persists, for some form of regulatory intervention backed by the necessary legal regulations for minibus fares, as a start."

He explained that when the increase in 1999 was announced, what was taken into consideration then was the fuel price of $400 per gallon.

"Then the gasolene prices ranged between $260 and $270, (but) you can't go every month re-adjusting prices.

"What we have done was to look at the range, that is, $250 and $400. So right now we are at the borderline situation and if in three weeks time, the gasolene prices start falling to $350, it would certainly be unreasonable to increase fares," Nadir explained.

He said that in light of the current situation that has been developing and causing some amount of concern and confusion among the travelling public, some recommendations have been made/discussed.

According to him, one recommendation being made is that buses display prominently on the dashboard or on the front windscreen, the fares that are being charged so commuters would have an opportunity to go on a bus of their choice at this stage.

He noted that the current position regarding the `fare fiasco' is that a majority of operators have not accepted to hold prices and many have forced consumers to pay the higher fares.

They have also continued to threaten to withdraw their services and this has resulted in standoffs between commuters and operators since several commuters were left stranded.

It is understood that two recommendations are being made for a 'free market for fares' or a 'fare regulation', should the situation reach that stage.

This newspaper understands that the first recommendation is expected to have a downward pressure on prices because there is an "oversupply of buses" and many operators and owners have bus loans to pay.

As such, it is felt that the operators would engage in a sort of 'cut-throat competition'.

Nadir indicated that taxi fares, for example, have been stable and have even decreased because of this principle.

The 'free market for fares' recommendation also entails making it part of the road service that buses must display their fares prominently on the front of the buses.

With regards to the second recommendation (fare regulation), it is understood that this would need to be put under the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) or the Transport and Harbours Department.

According to Nadir, fare setting and the conditions of service could put much needed order into the current chaotic and buses, speedboats, government ferry vessels and perhaps taxis would have to come under this regulation.

He said commuters, consumer organisations and some operators would welcome fares and service regulation.

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